Every Friday, ‘The Album Cycle’ reviews a handful of new releases.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
The xx – I See You
With four years and a solo project passing since the last communique from skeletal suburban R&B trio The xx, the roll-out of third full-length album I See You has been surprisingly light on fanfare – perhaps fittingly for a band known almost as much for their embrace of space as for what they use to fill it. Though their minimal approach is here augmented by a vastly expanded sonic palette and a much more obvious incorporation of samples, I See You finds The xx largely refusing steadfastly to fix what isn’t broken: crescendos still lead to cliff-faces; emotional appeals are punctuated more often with silence than shouts.
It’s an improved awareness of the contrasts this creates, though, that really makes I See You pop – though the mood’s still more spotlights than strobes, the horns-and-bass two-step of ‘Dangerous’ and stripped-back-Shellback stomp of ‘I Dare You’ are comfortably their boldest dancefloor appeals to date. Speaking to Stevie Kaye before the album’s release, co-frontperson Romy Madley Croft spoke of opening windows on their process. That feeling comes across palpably both in the record’s 10 songs and in its sleeve, the cover art featuring for the first time the band’s three members, reflected blurrily against their iconic thick-cut ‘X’. Though the sensuality and sensitivity of I See You still never feels explicit, The xx have never seemed quite so self-assured. – Matthew McAuley
The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
Oklahoma indie institution The Flaming Lips operate a little bit like The Grateful Dead for Gen Xers – a long, strange trip which so far shows no sign of abating. It feels like the Lips have been just as active as ever in the 2010’s, but their 15th album Oczy Mlody is only their second proper album of original material this decade, the band’s attention drawn away by projects such as backing Miley Cyrus while she tripped balls on her directionless Dead Petz album, and their own slightly meandering full length re-creation of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Leader Wayne Coyne described the album in pre-release material as “Syd Barrett meets A$AP Rock and they get trapped in a fairytale from the future” and while perhaps no record can live up to such a tremendous billing Oczy Mlody is a very good Flaming Lips record. Less bleak than 2013’s The Terror, but still with a sighing melancholy undercutting most tracks, Mlody is a collection of mostly mellow, often lovely psychedelia about unicorns, frogs with demon eyes, and fairies. For fans of the band it’s well worth the investment, but non-Lips heads will find much to enjoy here too. – Pete Douglas
Various Artists – Agrim Agadez
Every six months or so I remember about Sahel Sounds and go to the label’s Bandcamp to see what’s new – invariably there will be a handful of new releases unearthed by Christopher Kirkley, a kind of rogue ethnomusicologist who is based in Portland but seems to spend most of his life exploring the varied music scenes of western Africa. Agrim Agadez is among the label’s latest releases, a compilation of Tuareg folk songs from the city of Agadez in Niger. It’s a mostly relaxed set, full of intricate guitar and gentle harmonies, with the exception of a wild cover of ‘Hey Joe’ which channels the ragged glory of Tonight’s The Night era Neil Young. The two tracks by a group called Etran de l’Air are highlights, particularly the more energetic title track, as is Sahel Sounds guitar hero Mdou Moctar’s beautiful low-key ‘Adounia Tiyoun’. – Calum Henderson
Brian Eno – Reflection
Brian Eno being Brian Eno. Ambient-Eno, not pop-Eno. If you like Eno, this is very good Eno. – Henry Oliver
The story of Bobby Brown (no, not that Bobby Brown) and his astonishing long-lost psychedelic pop masterpiece almost seems too good to be true. The self-released Prayers of a One Man Band was recorded in Hawaii in 1982, with Brown playing a veritable orchestra of home-made instruments and singing in a voice which slips between country croon and Four Seasons falsetto, with weird spoken word interludes for good measure. Del Rio Records and Tapes owner Austin Leonard Jones started the label just so he could reissue this one record, and when you hear it you’ll understand why. – CH
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.